Warren talks a lot about the power of naming, that until you get the all the names right in a particular framework of the Taxonomy, the whole thing seems wrong somehow. He’s not the only one to recognize the power of naming, of course. The Bible’s Adam starts naming things almost immediately, and it’s important enough that it is about the only act he does that gets described, until the whole fruit thing.
Grady Clay, in his impossibly great book,Close-Up: How to Read the American City, makes the same point for understanding our urban environment:
Prescription — the putting together of proposals, why don’t you’s, solutions — depends on one’s ability first to observe a problem, to describe it, and finally to propose solutions in language that is persuasive, if not eloquent, and firmly anchored to evidence from daily life.
This is no game to be played just for the hell of it, but for survival. Unless we all learn to say what we see, to describe it so others can see it, and to expand our own powers of description in a changing world, there is little reason to think we will do well at prescription, at finding solutions, at coping. Fuzzy language leads to fuzzy thoughts. The so-called “urban dialogue” of our time is not only dull but often hysterical. Its language is an awkward mixture of elitist architectural terms, of radical shitslinging, and of the manipulative lingo of evangelistic bureaucrats. You can read for pages or listen for hours, and have no contact with the hard facts of a living environment. Somehow we need to work out a better fit between language and environment. I think this can only happen if we continually confront the thing itself — the changing city, its people and their processes.
If I doctored it up a bit, I could use the same quote to describe much of management and organizational literature. Or even most political discourse.
Naming is a necessary step. It isn’t the full journey, but by naming the thing you get power over it, or perhaps it simply loses its power over you. There’s a rich literature on naming, from almost every writing culture. Get the names right or spend the rest of your time in the wilderness.